Student veterans share memories of service

Mary Park, Scene Editor

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Rows of the star-spangled banner waved along both sides of North Walnut Street.

Starting from Nov. 4, CWU Veterans Center is hosting Veterans Week to remember the service of veterans and current military servicemen and servicewomen.

On Monday, students from the CWU Veterans Club, Veterans Center and ROTC helped set up the flags all along North Walnut Street to prepare for Veterans Day.  

Sherice Fraser, president of the Veterans Club, said that on Nov. 7, Marine Cake Day will take place to celebrate the birthday of the United States Marine Corps. Veterans are invited to Bouillon 214 from 10 a.m. to noon to have a slice of cake with fellow veterans.

That same day from noon to 2 p.m., “Thank a Vet Day” will happen in the SURC Marketplace, where veterans will table a booth.

“People can come up and thank veterans in person, or they can thank them in a written form on a poster that we’re going to have out there,” Fraser said.

On Veterans Day, there will be a movie showing of “Saving Private Ryan” (1998) in the SURC Theatre at 7 p.m.

Fraser, who joined the Army as a 17-year-old and served for six years as a cook, said she remembers the difficult part of the job.

“When I first joined … I would also work on the weekends and I would also work on holidays,” Fraser said. “Being a cook was very demanding and strenuous.”

Fraser said she motivated herself with the goal of transitioning from enlisted to becoming an officer and took college classes and obtained certificates during the limited time she had for herself.

“Before getting to where I am now, I knew I had to serve a certain amount of years,” Fraser said. “I would be up at 4 a.m. and not be done until 5 p.m. and after that when I get home, that’s when I would knock out my classes or homework that I have.”

Fraser said her service in the military had helped her to grow and learn to be humble.

“Because I joined when I was 17 years old, I still had that child-like mindset, so the military helped me to mature, and I took that maturity out into my civilian life,” Fraser said. “Coming out into the civilian life, there was a lot of stuff that I didn’t know and so I had to become humble and not pretend like I know everything, listen to what [people] say, and take what I can out of what they’re saying and apply that.”

Alexander Salazar Jr. is a senior in Information Technology and Administrative Management (ITAM) cyber security who served in the Army as an active duty soldier for about five years and was discharged in 2017 through the Green to Gold program, which allows eligible soldiers to earn a degree and a commission at a school of their choice.

Salazar, originally from Littlerock California, said he was in his high school’s JROTC program for four years before enlisting in the Army.

“There used to be an old commercial where guys are running to the phone, because they’re answering the call,” Salazar said with a laugh. “That’s how I describe my [decision]. I felt like it was a duty I needed to fulfill.”

After basic training in South Carolina, Salazar was sent to Fort Huachuca, Arizona to receive his training for military intelligence and then to Fort Riley, Kansas for his first duty station.

“Specifically, what I remember is like I look at my name tape and my rank and that’s all everybody knows me as,” Salazar recalled. “It’s kind of like here when you’re a freshman, nobody knows your high school past or whatever you did, it’s like a fresh slate, and what are you going to do with it, kind of a thought I had to myself, what am I going to do with this new fresh slate I had.”

Salazar said his time in the Army has made him and his family be more grateful and proud of being an American.

“Because my parents are both from El Salvador, and I’m the first person born in [the U.S.] out of my family,” Salazar said. “I think at least it really helped my family, we’re a lot more patriotic than a lot of my cousins and their families, just because I joined.”

Salazar said the Veterans Center has helped him a lot to transition becoming a student and civilian.

“[Everybody in the Veterans Center] is honestly like good friends, good mentors,” Salazar said. “I think the Veterans Center is really good place to take off the uniform slowly.”

Edwin Torres, a senior in geography with an environmental resource geography specialization, was a corporal in the Marines who worked on power plants of helicopters.

Torres recalled his first day at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego after being bussed from the airport.

“You kind of just sit there when this guy suddenly come out and he’s yelling these instructions at you and gives you a time limit and says, ‘Go!’” Torres said. “And so I immediately regretted my decision when I got off the bus [thinking] ‘what am I doing here, what did I sign up for?’”

Torres said after growing accustomed to the training, his memories of working as a helicopter mechanic is filled with hot summers in North Carolina and crunching on grasshoppers in Afghanistan, where he was stationed in 2013.

“We worked on the flight line a lot so the sun would cook you if you’re out there all day,” Torres said with a chuckle.

Torres said D. Kellerman and Ruben Cardenas at the Veterans Center helped his process of becoming a student, with handing in documents and answering questions.

“Every veteran’s transition is going to be different,” Torres said. “I’m actually the Vet Corps Navigator for the school this year so what I focus on is helping veterans transition from military life to civilian life.”

Torres said his time as a Marine and the values instilled in him has made him look at things differently.

“I don’t feel like my service is anything out of the ordinary, I just do what I was asked to do and I feel like anybody could have done that service,” Torres said. “I definitely appreciate it and just say thank you right back, because … I’m just as thankful for that opportunity.”

To Fraser, the words, “Thank you for your service,” means she has done something to help someone else’s life.

“Thank you for putting in that time, for caring enough to make my life better, and that to me is like selfless service,” Fraser said. “And that’s what I think ‘Thank you for your service’ means.”